Mostafa Kamal Majumder
After a month of fasting and self-restraint Muslims in Bangladesh, like those in the rest of the world, are celebrating the holy Eid-ul-Fitr on Monday according to the sighting of the moon. Traditionally the biggest religious festival in the country the Eid has come with a different flavour this time because of the unprecedented coronavirus pandemic attack which compelled the country to be under lockdown since March 26. The lockdown has been enforced by the government to ensure social distancing with a view to preventing rapid spread of the highly contagious virus. It has brought the economy to a standstill and disoriented all productive sectors, virtually stopping money from changing hands that would have otherwise taken place through productive activities. Although the government has withdrawn restrictions on saying of prayers at mosques there are two schools of thought about Eid congregations this time. One school of thought is preaching the saying of Eid prayers at home to protect from the spread of coronavirus. Another group is in favour of having congregations asking devotees to file up by maintaining distance from one another to avoid transmission of the virus from silent spreaders who are unaware of the infection. The organizers of the Solakia Eid congregation have already announced the suspension of the programme this year in view of the coronavirus pandemic. Solakia is known for holding one of the largest Eid congregations in Bangladesh. The Baitul Muqarram National Mosque is, on the other hand, has organized Jumma congregations by maintaining distance between devotees who have taken part. It looks like Eid congregations will be organised in the same fashion at the grand mosque. Participation of people in congregations at mosques, however, have so far been far below normal. Eid congregations have been banned in most Arab countries.
The pandemic has affected all categories of people. However, people of the low-income bracket who relied on small jobs, monthly or day-to-day income are the hardest hit in the society. The day labourers, rickshaw pullers, transport workers, garment workers, wayside shopkeepers, masons, carpenters, domestic helps all suddenly found themselves deprived of regular income on which they relied. The government has allocated stimulus packages of nearly Taka 1 trillion to bail out different sectors of the economy and also expanded the social safety net program to address the problems of the hardest hit people. But still many people remained not covered by such programs and are passing their days in serious hardships.
Some rich people have also started extending hands of support to their near and dear ones. Different Dhaka-based societies have organized distribution of rice, pulses and potatoes to needy people of their localities in various districts to protect people from hunger. Yet all initiatives taken together fall far short of the gap that has been created by the all-pervasive economic ruin let loose by the pandemic and the lockdown. The situation calls for all people who have money in excess of meeting their basic demands to share food with their neighbours who cannot ask for help but are going hungry. The Bangladesh society which has at times of crises in the past demonstrated this generosity will, hopefully, not fail this time too. The message of Eid-ul-Fitr is also to share wealth with the poor and celebrate together.
This Eid is different on another count. The scale of mass movement of people from Dhaka and other major urban centres to the far-flung villages has been much less than before. Normally millions of people who have their families back at village homes make Eid trips to celebrate the festival with their loved ones. This time the movement of the people has remained severely restricted because the movement of all public transports remains suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic. And fact remains, the detection of fresh coronavirus cases continues to be on the higher side. The rate of death is also up. In view of the situation of the ground, many people are strictly maintaining lockdown by restricting themselves indoors.
It is to be noted that despite the government decision to reopen markets in view of the Eid festivals the big malls and arcades have remained closed across the country as their owners preferred not to open those in view of the worsening coronavirus situation. It is clear that the greatest festival of the Muslims this time will see them refraining from embracing each other and avoiding visits to each other’s homes. It will be an Eid of exchanging greetings through telephones, emails, Facebook, messenger, and apps like WhatsApp, Emo, Viber and the like. The pandemic has forced the people to avoid mixing with each other but the message of brotherhood that the Eid brings forth remains fresh in the minds of the people. Let’s hope this fellow-feeling helps overcome the hatred and prejudices that many people have against corona infected people and those who die of Covid-19.
(Mostafa Kamal Majumder is editor of GreenWatch Dhaka. A version of this article was published in The Asian Age, Dhaka on May 23.)